Each time they head to the practice field, Dallas Cowboys players pass motivational messages posted outside the locker room.
One poster stresses three characteristics that head coach Jason Garrett wants to see from his squad: Passion, emotion and enthusiasm.
Garrett should consider adding a fourth word to the list.
Dallas continues to display none heading into Sunday’s home game against Tampa Bay (1 p.m. ET, FOX).
The start of the 2012 season is all too familiar for Cowboys fans accustomed to having their hearts broken. It was Dallas, not the New York Giants, who played like defending Super Bowl champions in a season-opening 24-17 road upset.
The Cowboys said all the right things immediately afterward. It was only one victory. The same kind of focus and attention to detail would be given to the Week 2 matchup at Seattle.
Blah, blah, blah.
As good as the Cowboys were against the Giants, they were just as awful in last Sunday’s 27-7 loss.
Such a letdown is nothing new.
The Cowboys haven’t strung together consecutive seasons with double-digit victories since the mid-1990s. That is also the last time they reached an NFC title game.
The franchise plays in what is known as the Taj Mahal of NFL venues yet has only a 13-11 home record since Cowboys Stadium opened in 2009.
The 2011 season exemplified just how erratic Dallas has become since a 13-3 campaign in 2007. The Cowboys were 5-10-1 against the spread. They blew two-touchdown leads in three losses. They dropped four games by less than five points. And the coup de grace — they missed the playoffs after getting routed in Week 17 by the Giants.
Garrett is now trying to prevent another rollercoaster year from occurring under his watch.
“It’s a constant point of emphasis for us — players being consistent, our team being consistent,” Garrett told FOXSports.com after Thursday’s practice. “What we want to do is be consistently good, play at a high level and do that every week.
“It comes down to preparation, being able to carry the preparation into the game, being able to handle success and adversity within a game. Good things and bad things are going to happen. Keep going. That has a lot to do with discipline and mental toughness individually and collectively.”
This also is what upset Garrett about the Seahawks loss.
More than the special-teams errors that put Dallas into an early 10-point deficit, Garrett wasn’t happy with how the Cowboys responded after having cut Seattle’s lead to 13-7 at halftime.
“What bothered me most was when we came back out in the second half after we had made it manageable and overcoming all that stuff,” Garrett said. “They controlled the football. We had a three-and-out. They had another long drive. Before you know it, we’re well into the fourth quarter and the opportunities become limited.”
The Cowboys didn’t deserve to win. The defense got gouged for 122 rushing yards by Marshawn Lynch. A rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson) wasn’t forced into any turnovers while the Cowboys fumbled four times, losing one of them, along with a Tony Romo interception.
Normally sure-handed tight end Jason Witten dropped two passes. Running back DeMarco Murray, coming off a 131-yard effort against New York, gained 44 yards on 12 attempts.
And let’s not forget Dez Bryant. He had only three catches for 17 yards.
Bryant exemplifies the type of tease the Cowboys are. Based upon how much praise he receives for athleticism and potential, Bryant should be one of the NFL’s top wide receivers. Yet as his third NFL season begins, Bryant has just one career 100-yard performance.
Bryant’s off-field problems have proven more newsworthy than anything he’s done on the field. The same can be said for the hype that surrounds the Cowboys entering every season before things inevitably fall apart.
Why is it this way?
Start at the top with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Winning doesn’t seem as important as winning in Jerry’s way. Jones wants to have a hand in football matters. He does so in a high-profile manner even if this means putting the head coach in awkward situations that can ultimately undermine his locker-room credibility. The latest brouhaha came earlier this week when it appeared Jerry Jones put the kibosh on the possibility running back Felix Jones could be replaced as kickoff returner following his game-opening fumble in Seattle.
Felix Jones is another part of the problem. He was one of the marquee picks in the team’s disastrous draft classes from 2006 to 2009. Only six of those 34 players chosen remain on the roster. The lone first-round starter is outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who has underachieved as a pass-rusher.
The team’s three best players — Romo, Witten and outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware — are less vocal and more by-example types of leaders. This, too, has created more external debate about whether the Cowboys have the right mix of personalities when it comes to handling adversity and teammates policing themselves.
All of this is playing out on the NFL’s biggest stage. No franchise is as popular or worth more — an estimated $2.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine — than the Cowboys.
New Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said told FOXSports.com that such pressure “can get to you if you let it.”
“You don’t realize the magnifying glass that’s on this team until you’re actually in this locker room,” said Carr, who spent his first four NFL seasons with Kansas City. “I’ve been able to experience the ups and downs with the wins and losses and how the tide changes. The city is up when you win and down when you lose. It’s all on our backs.”
The Cowboys can get critics off their backs by not beating themselves or losing to inferior opposition. When clicking, Dallas is talented enough to defeat any team in the league. Romo, Witten and Ware are still in their prime and among the NFL’s best at their respective positions. Promising young talent added in the past two seasons like Murray, left tackle Tyron Smith, linebacker Sean Lee and cornerback Morris Claiborne are just scratching the surface of how good they can become.
“At the end of the day, adversity builds character,” Ware told FOXSports.com. “It’s always how you bounce back. We’re ready for the challenge.”
Dallas must start proving that Sunday against Tampa Bay or disappointment will remain the only thing the Cowboys have consistently produced.